Bogota uses mimes instead of traffic tickets!

A primary purpose of this blog is collect and share ideas that provide supportive evidence and examples of how great business can be as simple as returning to older, tried, and fundamentally important ways of doing business.  Hence the title of this blog “By Hand”.

This post is about how a city government used shame, a fundamentally powerful and effective force for influencing our behavior, to get people to obey laws and act more safely.   Peer pressure still works long after junior high school!  I came across the story while listening to a June 21, 2012 Freakonomics podcast, and a synopsis of the story is as follows…

In Bogota, Colombia, the capital city’s mayor at the time, Antanas Mockus, hired mimes to essentially make fun of citizens who were walking or driving unsafely in city streets.  A pedestrian running across the road would be tracked by a mime who mocked his every move. Mimes also poked fun at reckless drivers.  By publicly drawing attention to the citizens as they drove or walked unsafely, the Mayor’s brilliant idea was to use peer pressure and our natural desire for social conformity to cause these unlawful citizens to feel shame and change their behavior.   The city government did not hand out traffic tickets with financial penalties to these jaywalkers or unsafe drivers; rather it used shame prompt behavior change.  As a result, the citizens learned  Gazette 2004 03.11 Photos 1-Mockus1-450lessons learned by their heart instead of the wallet; and the rate of traffic accidents in Bogota were greatly reduced!

According to a article, initially 20 professional mimes shadowed pedestrians who didn’t follow crossing rules, but the program was so popular that another 400 people were trained as mimes.



Are Non-biodegradable plastics a thing of the past?!!!

Researchers have found a fungi in the Amazon rainforest that can degrade and utilize the common plastic polyurethane (PUR) for energy.   What a thought…that after all our destructive consumption of plastic has done to hurt mother nature, that she might hold the fix to this problem!!!?     Amazing!   The fungi can survive on polyurethane alone and is uniquely able to do so in an oxygen-free environment (I’m thinking landfills).

As someone who cringes at the thought of how much plastics are being put into landfills and our environment, this is fantastically exciting news, and I want to see it implemented if it works, so I wonder about two practical matters:

  1. Can we force these fungi to consume the PUR, or–given other options–will it choose to consume other materials?   That is, if we put them in the landfill, will they choose to eat paper instead of the PURs we want them to eat?
  2. What byproduct(s) if any are produced by the fungi when it degrades/consumes the PUR; and is it good/better for the environment?

I hope the scientists have come up with great answers for these questions!!

The Yale University team of researchers have published its findings in the article ‘Biodegradation of Polyester Polyurethane by Endophytic Fungi’ for the Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal.

Stephen Fry in America [short-movie series]

Amazing what a new perspective on a culture can tell us about ourselves.   I think this Englishman gives us that and–at times–an appreciation for the geography we have in United States.   Perhaps the most telling takeaway I found from, say,  Episode 2, is the relatively great abundance of resources that most of us Americans enjoy.    I think watching this series will help us understand why/how  the rest of the world perceive us to be.   After watching Episode 1 and 2 of 6, I probably would recommend watching the series, but I certainly would recommend episode 2, where he travels to the deep south.   You can watch these episodes on Netflix.

Sugata Mitra’s new education model, SOLEs, could be how our children learn in the future

An absolutely enlightening and astonishing piece on Sugata Mitra’s research and, now, pursuit to further a new education model he calls Self Organizing Learning Environments (SOLEs).

Below is the video of Sugata’s Ted Talk, which shows his work and the amazing ability of children (young minds).    Highlights include: the story (starts at minute 7:00), the “grandmother method” (starts at minute 10:00), and the story of the 10 year olds correcting Sugata on the spelling of Pythagoras and telling him who he was in a few minutes.

A few things we can learn from the Japanese people…

I was traveling around Japan in March 2011, and was in the Tokyo when the first of the earthquake tremors hit, and was there for the two days following…experiencing the aftershocks (many of which were big enough to be considered earthquakes), and observing–not surprisingly however–why I think the Japanese people are so amazing.    Below are some of the things we saw.

After the initial earthquake on Friday afternoon, all transportation was shut down.  All trains and buses were not running, and taxicab lines were two hours long, so we found a restaurant and bar to pass the time away.   We found a number of calm Japanese, not panicking, and just watching the news channel with a pint of beer in hand.  I even spoke with one man who was worried about his family, which he could not reach since phone lines and the trains from Tokyo to his rural suburb were not working.

We were in the Tokyo Stock Exchange building when the earthquake hit, and it was probably the best place we could have been.  The incredible architecture of buildings allowed them to sway but not fall, while outside on the streets, some glass windows and tilings on outside walls cracked and fell to the ground, putting pedestrians at risk.

Disciplined queues for water and groceries. Not a rough word or a crude gesture.  People bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something.  When the power went off in a store, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly.   There was no looting in shops.  No honking or overtaking on the roads.  The Japanese were very polite even to us travelers after such a devastating catastrophe.

Restaurants cut prices. An unguarded ATM is left alone.

All the Japanese professionals working in downtown Tokyo knew exactly what to do when the earthquake hit.  They calmly filed out of buildings with their employee-issued white construction helmets.  Even our Tokyo Stock Exchange tour guide calmly instructed us to get under the desks.

They showed magnificent restraint in the bulletins. No silly reporters. Only calm reportage.

Even though I saw first-hand–during the Great Flood of 1993 (I was a volunteer sand-bagger with my dad)–how Americans can come together to help one another, I still think we can learn a few things from the Japanese.

changing the world is heavy stuff

I know this sounds cheezy, but trust me on this one…

I just finished watching Episode 1 of the new TV series The Philanthropist, and well, I was inspired and moved by the story.   Why?  Well I recommend you watch the episode yourself, but I saw what a difference I could make in someone’s life as a rich philanthropist.

Earlier this week, I watched Soccer’s Lost Boys, the story about young African men being sold and deserted in foreign countries where they are forced to endure prostitution, poverty, etc., and I was just at a loss for words.  I just wanted to be able to do something but didn’t know what to think.

It has long been my plan to accumulate wealth so that I can make the world a better place, but the last scene in the episode where the main character, which is based on the real person Bobby Sager, gives the little toy to the young boy who he had been searching for completely made clear how the overabundance of things that most people in the U.S. (including myself) through away would be treasured by people in places like rural Africa.  The look on the boy’s face when he sees the simple toy in action just did me in.  Now I want to work with Mr. Sager, his family, and his foundation as a volunteer.   Hopefully, I can also one day also achieve the level of financial independence I need to properly take care of the mother and grandmother that raised me to be such a caring, loving person and who also are living just above the poverty line here in the U.S.  I owe very much to these strong women.  Without their will and strength, I don’t think I’d be half the person or leader I aspire to be.

Watch the Episode 1, and I hope it prompts you to act, as it has done to me.

I’m going to email Mr. Sager right now, asking how I can help, and then read more on Team Sager website.

Casa Santo Domingo (Antigua, Guatemala)

If you ever travel to Antigua, Guatemala (say for a destination wedding like I did), I highly recommend staying at the Casa Santo Domingo.  The converted 16th century convent, now luxury hotel, is a special place.   In January 2010, it was a Conde Nast Gold List Hotel (#681) – World’s Best Places To Stay, and #1 in Guatemala.   Thing seem in balance there.  Nothing moves too quick or too slow.  The centuries old architecture (from the monastery) blends in balanced form with modern accents and accommodations.  The rhythm of nature dominates that of fast-paced technology, making for a relaxing retreat inside the walled fortress-like compound of the hotel property.  Gardens, patios and balconies off every room, tropical plants that grow in the air drape walkways, and even macaw parrots are kept near the pool area.   Everything is kept in proper proportion to remind you just enough of where you are, which is very much still an ancient Spanish speaking village.

The food served at the hotel restaurant is also excellent.  Knowing we were staying in a country where tap water was not safe to drink, we all ate and drank confidently and happily the food and drink served by the resort restaurant.

Pricey, yes, but Casa Santa Domingo is worth well worth visiting if you travel to Guatemala.  If you are looking to get away from it all and just decompress, it may even be worth traveling to Guatemala just to stay at Casa Santa Domingo.    P.S. You would be mistaken to interpret the outdated design of the resort’s website to be reflective of anything more than it being a low priority of the resort.


One style of room at Casa Santa Domingo


New perspectives

One of the things I thrive on are new perspectives.  Maybe that is why I like movies so much…?   This blog entry is about a new television program that has stimulated my new-perspective senses, and educated me through it’s supply of new perspectives.    In just one episode, this television show has proven it’s genius ability to supply me with new perspectives on a variety of social concerns, such as interpersonal relationships, charity, what is really important in life, what a beautiful human spirit looks like, etc.  I don’t doubt that this is because I have never traveled to Africa, much less to any of its rural villages, which is culture that the show is based in. Continue reading